Picabo Angler

Pee-Ka-Boo is a Native American word meaning "Shining Waters."

Picabo Angler is a destination: A full-service fly shop & outfitter located on the banks of world-renowned Silver Creek


Friday, July 11, 2014:


Starting from 1980, the year I got serious with a Montana girl who became my wife a year later, I fished the little known Thompson River in the extreme northwest corner of Montana every trip to her family’s log cabin on 12 acres along the western shore of Flathead Lake.  The fly fishing on Flathead Lake was marginal at best, thus my father-in-law and I would make the 90 minute drive to The Thompson several times a year for some male bonding.  Translated, that involved a half gallon of Cutty Sark, two pound T-Bone steaks and russet potatoes and corn on the cob cooked on an open fire.  We’d make the trip in his renovated Union Pacific mustard yellow Jeep Grand Waggoner whose two gas tanks made it unnecessary to stop for gas.  We’d turn of Highway 200 late afternoon and would stop in the “Thompson River Ranch” bar and grill to find out when the grill closed so that we could be sure to be on time on the way back to the lake for yet another steak dinner.  We’d always have a drink before heading up river.  I remember one time when the honking of horns outside the bar interrupted the waitress from taking our order.  She walked to the doorway, faced us, pulled her drawers down and “mooned” one of the locals.  When she returned to our table and asked my father-in-law what he wanted, he responded, “I’ll have what he just had.”

The Thompson is a wonderful river for beginning fly fishermen, including kids.  We regard it as the family river, having fished it for decades.  Everyone from my three sons to their mother’s grandfather has made the pilgrimage.  It is 40 miles long and runs from the Thompson chain of lakes up by Route 2 to its confluence with the Clark’s Fork on Hwy 200.  In August the Thompson runs low and clear, about 400 cfs.  You can navigate it in hip boots or wade wet for relief from the baking heat of the canyon.  Riffles, runs and pools alternate.  The best fishing is in pools fed by in-stream springs but you have to know where they are; I once spent the better part of a weekend taking temperature readings above and below the major pools.  The trout are far from sophisticated; they love classic flies such as Joe’s, Hopper, Royal Wulff, Humpy, Hare’s Ear, Adams Parachute, Picket Pin, Prince Nymph and the like.  The lack of specificity always amazed me given the variety of bugs found in the Thompson:  Brown Drakes; Salmon Flies; Blue Winged Olives; Pale Morning Duns; Gray Drakes; Tricos; October Caddis; Spruce Moths, to name just a few.  Each August there are Grasshoppers and a reliable evening caddis emergence.  I only achieved what we called the “Thompson River Hat Trick” once, in a single day catching:  Rainbow, Brown, Cutthroat; Brook; Bull trout and Whitefish.  You are likely to run into bears and wild sheep.  The average trout is not particularly large so it is a great stream to fish your 3 weight rod.  The Thompson River is not exactly destination water but if you are in the general vicinity and pass on it, you’ll be poorer for it.     

But, back to the point of this diatribe.  

So, I had fished the Tricos and Gray Drakes one August morning and headed back to camp for lunch and an afternoon nap, but since it was brutally hot I decided to walk down the stream bed.  I came upon a deep pool surrounded by cliffs and needed to bush whack through the woods.  Suddenly, I smelled something awful.  When I exited the woods onto a beach the stench was overpowering.  Turned out, there was a rotting carcass of a dead beaver but my attention was immediately grabbed by a dozen large trout slashing at some insect in the six inch shallows along the beach.  The Yellow Jackets working the carcass were becoming inebriated and were falling on the water surface, to the delight of both the trout and Yours Truly.  I looked through my vest and found my only bee pattern, a cheap store bought McGinty.  That heritage dry fly pattern has a red tail, a body of alternating wraps of yellow and black fine chenille, duck quill wings and furnace hackle.  It turned out to be just the ticket, as I landed a half dozen trout over 16 inches which makes for an exceptional day on the Thompson River.  

The morale of the story is Never Leave Home Without a bee pattern or, for that matter, beetles, ants, flying ants, lions, tigers and bears.

Doug Andres

Stream Keeper